To see or not to see.
That is the question -- starting next Thursday -- for those who are curious about all the fuss over the sold-out London production of "Hamlet," starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the most famous title role in Shakespeare's canon.
Only those fortunate enough to have bought tickets in August or those with a fortune to spend now get to see the celebrity-studded tragedy during its limited run, through Oct. 31, at Barbican Centre. Tickets with a face value of 30 to 62.50 pounds ($47-$97) reportedly resell for $700 or more. Or you can stand in line -- queue up in Britspeak -- all night in hopes of snagging one of 30 tickets dispensed daily for $15.50 (transatlantic airfare and accommodations not included). But soon you can see it in a National Theatre Live simulcast -- or delayed recording -- at six Long Island venues for $18-$22.
Your first chance is 2 p.m. next Thursday, when Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre presents Long Island's only live simulcast of "Hamlet" (8 p.m. London time). " 'Hamlet' is doing very well," says Cinema Arts spokesman Raj Tawney. "Both showings are more than halfway to being sold out." (There's an encore at Cinema Arts at 7 p.m. Oct. 22.) "Previous [National Theatre Live] showings of 'The Audience' and 'Skylight' definitely helped build a buzz around quality live theater," Tawney adds, referring first to the drama that won Helen Mirren a Tony Award for best actress and second to the Tony winner for best revival of a play.
"Yes, it's selling very quickly," says Guild Hall spokeswoman Barbara Jo Howard regarding "Hamlet" at East Hampton's John Drew Theater on Oct. 24. "It's already well beyond any other National Theatre Live we've had to date."
Does the show live up to its hype? Critics gave it a mixed reception.
Dominic Cavendish of The Telegraph writes that Cumberbatch is "a blazing five-star Hamlet trapped in a middling, three-star show." He complains of director Lyndsey Turner's "tendency to hack the text." (Turner moved the "to be or not to be" soliloquy to the opening before returning it to its usual place in Act 3.) Michael Billington of The Guardian writes, "Cumberbatch might have given us infinitely more if he were not imprisoned in a dismal production." Variety's Matt Trueman calls the show a "radical reinvention . . . for a world on edge."
Cumberbatch was last seen on stage in 2011, in the National Theatre's "Frankenstein," winning an Olivier Award. This year, he earned an Oscar nomination for his role as decoder Alan Turing in "The Imitation Game." But he may be best known in his native United Kingdom as Sherlock Holmes in the popular BBC/PBS series.
Maureen McFeely, who teaches Shakespeare at Hofstra University and has been dramaturge (adviser on the meaning of a play's text) for its annual Shakespeare Festival since 1993, hasn't seen Cumberbatch's Hamlet yet but will catch it, "probably twice," at upcoming screenings. She's now working on a one-hour "Hamlet" to tour local schools around the time of next semester's Shakespeare Festival, where "Hamlet" was last performed in 2008. Judging from previous roles, McFeely says Cumberbatch could "absolutely be a formidable Hamlet. What I look for," adds McFeely, who's seen 30 or more Hamlets, "is humor. Hamlet is very funny and sarcastic. He must show complexity as he finds himself pulled in so many different directions."
As for seeing the show on-screen as opposed to onstage, McFeely says she's observed several Shakespeare productions that were successful "in different ways in person and on film" or video.
"In the theater, you get to choose where to look," she says, "but your vantage point is static. In film or live telecast the camera provides different views, including close-ups. But you don't get to choose where to look. You're in the hands of the director."
In either case -- spoiler alert! -- it won't end agreeably for Hamlet, no matter where you sit.
'Hamlet' on Long Island
* Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington, 2 p.m. next Thursday, encore 7 p.m. Oct. 22, 631-423-7611, cinemaartscentre.org
* Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Rd., 7 p.m. next Thursday, 800-315-4000, movie ticket websites
* Island 16 Cinema De Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville, 7 p.m. next Thursday, 800-315-4000, movie ticket websites
* John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, 158 Main St., East Hampton, 7 p.m. Oct. 24, 631-324-4050, guildhall.org
* Peconic Landing, 1500 Brecknock Rd., Greenport, 3 p.m. Nov. 15, 631-477-3800, nwsdy.li/peconichamlet
* Plaza Cinema & Media Arts Center, 20 Terry St., Patchogue, Nov. 28, Dec. 3, 631-438-0083, plazamac.org